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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Donations go to victims: aid groups


Staff writer

OSAKA — At train stations, parks and other public places, groups of volunteers are out in force, collecting donations for survivors of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Holding cardboard boxes, they call out to passersby to open their wallets and donate what they can, and thank them with a deep bow if they drop in money.

But with more such groups than ever, many of those thinking of sending money are asking whether their donation will actually be used for the disaster victims, or end up being spent on that group's office supplies. Allegations that large groups in particular are not passing all of the donated money on to the victims but are keeping certain amounts for operating expenses are concerning potential donors.

"I want to donate, but who do I give money to, and how do I ensure all of it will really go to the victims as promised?" asked Yuko Horie, 22, a student in Nara who said she was concerned about large organizations in particular, after reading on various blogs and websites that they kept a portion of donations for their own use.

In recent days, the Japan Committee for UNICEF has come under fire by bloggers for allegedly setting aside up to 25 percent of donations for expenses. But Hiromasa Nakai, a committee spokesman, says 100 percent of donations now being received for the disaster will go to the victims.

"For the next couple of weeks, over the short to medium term at least, we'll be focused on using donations for the immediate needs of the victims," he said.

After the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the Japanese Red Cross Society was the target of criticism by local media and victims' groups after it was learned the organization had deposited money sent in for the quake victims in a local Kobe bank. The money had been set aside for future disaster needs in Kobe at a time when there were still thousands of people in homeless shelters, and the public outcry eventually led the Red Cross to release more money.

The Red Cross also says all money now being received for earthquake victims is going to their immediate needs. However, over the coming weeks, as more money comes in, a distribution committee that will include bureaucrats in the Tohoku region, the mass media and members of the Japanese Red Cross will be established to determine how the donations should be disbursed.

"We don't have any word on when the committee will be established, but 100 percent of donations are being spent on victim's needs," said Shintaro Tsumura, a Red Cross official.

Both the Japan Committee for UNICEF and the Japanese Red Cross are providing daily updates on their activities in the Tohoku region, and how they are spending money on the victims. For example, as of Wednesday, the Red Cross had 272 rescue teams in nine prefectures affected by the quake and tsunami, and had distributed more than 122,000 blankets.

While such large organizations offer the advantages of an international, and local, group of disaster relief experts who are well-known and well-connected to both national and local governments, they admit their size can sometimes be a disadvantage when it comes to providing quick and highly focused aid.

"Some smaller, local nongovernmental organizations probably do a better job of providing immediate aid in one area or another, but a disaster on the scale of Tohoku . . . requires a large-scale response," Tsumura said.

Individuals such as Horie who want to help out say they understand Tsumura's point. But at the same time, they want to ensure they are helping to make a difference by aiding the victims now.

"People in Tohoku need basic necessities now, so it would help me decide where to send my money if those collecting money offered more easily understood explanations about how, exactly, they will use it. They need to do more than just stand around and say, 'please give,' " she said.



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